“To be able to get out there and race and be out there with good cars - those Gibbs cars are awfully strong,” Johnson said following his victory. “So to size myself up against them and see what kind of runs they can create and try to put on me. At the start of the race, I was behind those two trying to figure out to get by them. All in all, it was a very productive night.”
Johnson led a race-high 31 laps as he blocked Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth for the final handful of laps. After expressing his No. 48 car’s strengths in the second half of the race, the six-time champion fought off the Toyota-powered cars to earn the victory.
Ryan Blaney finished inside of the top five in the Wood Brothers Ford. Blaney will race in his first Daytona 500 in what will be the beginning of an 18-race stint with the No. 21 team.
Danica Patrick, who was on the verge of missing the Daytona 500 after spinning on Lap 56, finished 10th to race her way in. Following the race, Patrick and Denny Hamlin exchanged words on pit road in a heated discussion. Patrick believed that Hamlin got into the rear end of her No. 10 car, but he continuously denied it.
Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan entered the second Budweiser Duel 150 with no owner points and a qualifying time outside of the top 30. With the No. 34 car’s owner points going to new teammate Cole Whitt, Ragan had to race his way into the Daytona 500 by finishing inside of the top 16. On Lap 19, Ragan and Justin Allgaier got together on the frontstretch. Ragan’s car received rear end damage, and he fell one lap down following a lengthy pit stop under caution. However, after getting back on the lead lap, he was able to surge into the top 16 – finishing 14th.
Reed Sorenson, who nearly didn’t have the opportunity to race on Thursday evening due to not having a backup car at the track, executed his way into the top 10 late in the race, along with Mike Wallace as the two made it into the Daytona 500.
Brian Scott missed the Daytona 500 in the No. 62 Chevrolet. Bobby Labonte finished 20th, but was able to use the champion’s provisional to make his way into Sunday’s event. Jeb Burton and Alex Bowman didn’t qualify for the race after being involved in a wreck on Lap 36 with Sam Hornish, Jr. and Austin Dillon. Hornish made the race based on owner points, and Dillon was able to continue and finished 15th. Josh Wise wasn’t able to get going from the start of the race in his Phil Parsons Racing No. 98 Ford. He was able to make it back on track for a handful of laps, but finished 24th.
Starting lineup via NASCAR.com.
|1||Jeff Gordon||Jimmie Johnson||Top two qualifiers (Final round of Coors Light Pole Qualifying)|
|2||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Kyle Busch||Top 15 from Duel races (Inside: First race; Outside: Second race)|
|3||Joey Logano||Carl Edwards||Top 15 from Duel races|
|4||Tony Stewart||Greg Biffle||Top 15 from Duel races|
|5||Clint Bowyer||Martin Truex Jr.||Top 15 from Duel races|
|6||Kevin Harvick||Ryan Blaney||Top 15 from Duel races|
|7||Kasey Kahne||Reed Sorenson||Top 15 from Duel races|
|8||Jamie McMurray||Mike Wallace||Top 15 from Duel races|
|9||Landon Cassill||Justin Allgaier||Top 15 from Duel races|
|10||Cole Whitt||Danica Patrick||Top 15 from Duel races|
|11||Paul Menard||Ryan Newman||Top 15 from Duel races|
|12||Michael McDowell||Kurt Busch||Top 15 from Duel races|
|13||JJ Yeley||David Gilliland||Top 15 from Duel races|
|14||Michael Annett||David Ragan||Top 15 from Duel races|
|15||Kyle Larson||Austin Dillon||Top 15 from Duel races|
|16||Ty Dillon||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Top 15 from Duel races|
|17||Aric Almirola||Michael Waltrip||Four fastest qualifiers from any round|
|18||Matt Kenseth||Johnny Sauter||Four fastest qualifiers from any round|
|19||Denny Hamlin||Brad Keselowski||2014 owner points|
|20||Trevor Bayne||AJ Allmendinger||2014 owner points|
|21||Sam Hornish Jr.||Casey Mears||2014 owner points|
|22||Bobby Labonte||xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx||Past champion
There is nothing like seeing fresh designs rolling into Speedweeks in the midst of the Florida breeze.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is rapidly approaching. In less than three weeks, the Sprint Media Tour is set to begin. And in just over one month, cars will be roaring around Daytona International Speedway with speeds surpassing 190 mph.
For the 2015 season, there are plenty of drivers in new places, crew chiefs moving all over the place and even sponsors departing the sport. However, with yet another set of changes for the rules package heading into the new year, NASCAR is prepared to possibly have one of their best seasons since the Chase for the Sprint Cup was implemented in 2004.
There are some drivers who are expected to have breakout seasons, but others – not so much. Let’s take a look at what to expect in the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season from each team.
-Jamie McMurray: In 2015, the No. 1 car will have a new man at the top of the pit box. McMurray will be working with former Robert Yates Racing developmental driver and Richard Childress Racing engineer Matt McCall. RCR attempted to sue McCall to prevent him from leaving the team, but on Jan. 1, it was made known that their efforts were unsuccessful. Coming off of a season with seven top fives, McMurray has a solid shot at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup after recording a career-high in laps led with 368. The team lost LiftMaster as a sponsor, but McDonalds and Cessna will likely continue to fill up the schedule for the No. 1 Chevrolet.
-Brad Keselowski: Not much will be changing for Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford. The team was arguably set to win a championship in 2014, and they have potential to do even better in 2015 with the abundance of success that was seen this past season.
-Austin Dillon: Dillon is coming off of a rather disappointing rookie year. He entered the season as Kevin Harvick’s replacement, and was expected to be more of a contender than what he was, especially after winning the pole for the Daytona 500. However, combining limited experience with a lack of speed shown throughout the RCR camp, Dillon finished 20th in points, which was just shy of winning Rookie of the Year honors. With Gil Martin returning in 2015, the No. 3 team has a realistic shot at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup. They might be able to sneak in a win at a restrictor plate track, but they will need to improve from their 17.5 average finish on the season.
-Kevin Harvick: Nothing will be changing on the No. 4 team other than the attempt at becoming a back-to-back champion. Harvick has been great with pressure over the years, and the crew enters 2015 in much better shape than they did in 2014, when Rodney Childers pieced everything together over the off-season. Without the aches and pains of mechanical issues, Harvick will likely be contending for wins on a weekly basis once again. He’ll attempt to be the first back-to-back champion since Jimmie Johnson won five straight titles from 2006 to 2010.
-Kasey Kahne: Kenny Francis will not be leading the No. 5 team in 2015. Instead, McMurray’s former crew chief Keith Rodden will oversee Kahne’s efforts. He has a mediocre 2014 season, so expect him to be more competitive in 2015. Kahne needs a solid season after resigning with Hendrick Motorsports through 2018. With a variety of sponsors, the No. 5 Chevrolet should be a force to be reckon with this season, but inconsistency has plagued Kahne throughout his career.
-Trevor Bayne: After a disappointing season in the Xfinity Series with Roush Fenway Racing, Bayne is moving up to the Cup Series. Bringing back the No. 6 Ford made famous by Mark Martin, the pressure will be on Bayne to perform after racing part-time for the Wood Brothers since making his debut with the organization in 2010. The 2011 Daytona 500 champion DNQ’ed at Charlotte with Roush, and his top 2014 finish in the No. 21 car was a 19th-place result at Texas and Michigan. With Roush’s obvious pain due to the new rules package in 2014, the new round of changes could play into their favor, which is similar to what teams had in the mid-2000s, where Roush saw plenty of success. Expect Bayne to be a mid-pack driver with a handful of top-10 results.
-Michael Annett: Coming off of a 32nd-place finish in points, Annett has plenty to prove this season. He is swapping over to the No. 46 car at HScott Motorsports, and will have a fresh start. He had some success in the Xfinity Series, and is now racing for a slightly more funded team. Tommy Baldwin Racing grew in 2014 due to an alliance with RCR. However, qualifying was a struggle for Annett, who had an average starting position of 33.7 – putting him a lap down or more early in events. He should find more consistency in 2015, but expect him to have some growing pains with the new team.
-Sam Hornish, Jr.: The No. 9 team will have a driver change in 2015 after Marcos Ambrose departed for his native Australia. Hornish is expected to run stronger than Ambrose, and possibly better than Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola. Sponsorship has still yet to be announced for this Ford team, but Twisted Tea is expected to up the number of races they fund. Hornish has run just two Cup Series races over the past two years, so the new testing policy probably won’t fall into his favor. Moreover, after running strong with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series, he should be competing for top-10 finishes every few races. He could possibly lock in a Chase for the Sprint Cup spot with a victory at one of the road course events, or even at the restrictor plate tracks.
-Danica Patrick: Following plenty of changes late in the 2014 season, the No. 10 Chevrolet will continue with Daniel Knost as the crew chief. Other than that, no changes will occur for Patrick’s team. Showing some improvements on-track in 2014, Patrick is expected to record at least five top 10s in 2015. However, Knost struggled with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch, who has a lot more experience than Patrick. There might be some growing pains between the two, but increasing her 23.7 average finish is going to be the biggest key. Her qualifying effort improved by approximately eight positions on average, but she bettered her average finish by a mere 2.4 spots.
-Denny Hamlin: Dave Rogers will take over the helm for Darian Grubb in 2015. Grubb and Hamlin never seemed to have the success that was expected of them. However, after earning a spot into the final round of the Chase as an underdog, Hamlin should have plenty of momentum entering the new season. The team struggled to find speed at intermediate tracks, as did all of the Toyota cars, which will be the key to their success during the new season. Expect Hamlin to earn a few wins, and likely improve upon his seven top fives.
-Casey Mears: Mears will return to Germain Racing with limited changes to the No. 13 crew. He had an up and down 2014 season, but performed well when momentum was on their side. Expect him to improve from 26th in points to approximately 23rd to 25th. As they continue their RCR alliance, they should be able to run very well at the road course events, which is Mears’ strong suit.
-Tony Stewart: There is no need to go into detail about the events that Stewart endured last summer. However, after an abysmal season, the No. 14 team is looking to rebound from the win-less year. Stewart had an average finish of 20th in 2014, which is nearly seven positions lower than his career average. Although some of that can be attributed to the chaos that occurred in his life, SHR was off the pace for the majority of the season. The new rules package will truly enable Stewart to get back into Victory Lane with the driver having more capabilities compared to the car. Expect Stewart to rebound and make the Chase, but there might been some inconsistency, which was seen in 2014.
-Clint Bowyer: Toyota was lacking horsepower in 2014, but Michael Waltrip Racing fell behind more than that. Bowyer failed to make the Chase in what was arguably his worst season since his rookie year in 2006. His best finish was third-place at both Talladega races and Richmond, yet other than that, he led just 109 laps on the year. For 2015, MWR will have to come up with a way to score a victory. Expect Bowyer to be competitive at the short tracks, but have some struggles at the intermediate tracks after having an abysmal average finish of 17.1 in 2014.
-Greg Biffle: Biffle had a sub-par 2014 season to say the least. Although he made the Chase with Roush Fenway Racing, Biffle was extremely inconsistent. With just three top fives and 11 top 10s, 2014 was arguably just as mediocre as 2011 for the Roush driver. In 2015, he’s going to be the veteran of the camp. RFR is making plenty of changes, and Matt Puccia is staying aboard as his crew chief. With new sponsor, Ortho, coming on board, the No. 16 team will look to not only make the Chase, but get back in Victory Lane during the new season.
-Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.: After missing the Talladega race in October, Stenhouse and the No. 17 team’s struggles were fully exposed. The high expectations that were laid upon him following back-to-back Xfinity Series titles were too abundant, and he has struggled since going full-time in the Cup Series. In 2015, if RFR can fix the aerodynamic issues that have plagued them, Stenhouse and new crew chief Nick Sandler have a chance at finishing inside of the top-20 in points. It would be a stretch for them to get a victory, but a handful of top fives is realistic for this bunch.
-Kyle Busch: With the Gibbs struggling at intermediate tracks, Busch was not able to perform well at his favorite places. Earning just one victory in 2014, the driver of the No. 18 car is looking for more success in 2015. He will be working with Adam Stevens, who won 19 Xfinity Series races with Busch over the past two years. Expect Busch to run better in 2015, especially after being paired with a man he has great chemistry with. The pair should easily make the Chase, but don’t expect more than four wins from them, which has been his plateau since 2009.
-Carl Edwards: 2015 is a fresh start for the Missouri-native. Being paired with former championship crew chief Darian Grubb, Edwards will either struggle at first, or he will excel. Roush was obviously struggling, and Edwards has the chance to be a champion at Gibbs. Winning two races in sub-par equipment during the 2014 season, driving the No. 19 Toyota might give him the edge that he has been looking for. Expect Edwards to win a handful of races, and improve from his 15.1 average finish in 2014, which consisted of leading a mere 135 laps.
-Matt Kenseth: Kenseth, like his teammates, struggled on the intermediate tracks in 2014. One could say that it is the runner-up slump, which seems to occur nearly every season. Earning a career-high seven wins in 2013, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota earned no victories in 2014. Kenseth had more top fives and top 10s during his second year with Gibbs, yet he just couldn’t find Victory Lane. He was the most consistent of the team’s three cars last year, and that should be the case once again in 2015. Expect Kenseth to win early in the season, but he will likely earn three to four victories – showing he is fast, but consistent as well.
-Ryan Blaney: Blaney will be running at least 12 races for the Wood Brothers in 2015. He might get a handful of events with Team Penske in a third car, but that will depend on sponsorship. Jeremy Bullins returns to the Wood Brothers after being Penske’s Xfinity Series crew chief, where he brought them back-to-back owner’s titles. Blaney finished runner-up with Brad Keselowski Racing in the Camping World Truck Series in 2014, and earned 13 top 10s in 14 starts under Bullins’ leadership. Expect Blaney to run better than Bayne did, especially with the Team Penske alliance.
-Joey Logano: Logano came extremely close to winning the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship. Earning five wins and an average finish of 11.3 in the No. 22 car, Logano was able to reach his full potential this past season. If it weren’t for a faulty pit stop late in the season finale at Homestead, Logano might have been able to contend for the title with Harvick. Expect 2015 to be just as good for the 24-year-old, who recently got married. The team hasn’t changed anything in the No. 22 camp for the fresh season, and that should give them plenty of momentum heading into 2015.
-Alex Bowman: Bowman will not be returning to BK Racing in 2015. He is headed over to Tommy Baldwin Racing – replacing Annett in the No. 7 car. Bowman’s rookie season was horrific. He had six DNFs with one top-20 finish (Daytona in July – 13th-place). For the majority of the season, he was being overly aggressive, which caused him to have just three finishes on the lead lap. The equipment is going to be better in 2015, but Bowman will need to improve his maturity level if he wants to be successful and help build this team.
-Jeff Gordon: With Gordon retiring at the end of this season, he is expected to go out on top. The No. 24 team excelled in 2014, earning four victories and an average finish of 10.4, which was Gordon’s best since 2009. Although an aching back could harm his results, it didn’t have much of an effect on him last year. His retirement tour is going to be extremely emotional for the entire sport. Hendrick Motorsports is set to have Chase Elliott fill in for him in 2016. But for now – you will see Gordon still competing for wins, and he should be able to win a handful of events in 2015, with the potential at winning his elusive fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Gordon will also be in the booth for FOX Sports during select NASCAR Xfinity Series events.
-Paul Menard: Menard is coming off of his best year int he NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Leading RCR with five top fives and 13 top 10s, the Wisconsin-native is expected to continue the momentum from last year. He has emerged as a team leader and mentor for the organization’s younger drivers, which should give him more potential to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2015. Although Menard’s average finish was 17.9, his handful of top fives is showing the potential that they have to succeed this season.
-The Motorsports Group: Ron Hornaday, Jr. is going to be the team’s primary driver in 2015. The soon to be 57-year-old has not raced in the Sprint Cup Series since 2003, and only ran more than three events in one season (2001). However, working with an upstart Chevrolet team, Hornaday should bring expertise that they need following nine and a half straight years running the Truck Series. Expect the team to struggle to make races at first, but they should catch on mid-way through the season. Sponsorship has always been a concern for them in the Xfinity Series, but Curtis Key has self-funded the program for multiple seasons.
-Ryan Newman: Some way or another, Newman finished second in points. He didn’t have a great season, but the runner-up curse might hit him in 2015. Earning a mere five top fives and 16 top 10s, the No. 31 team excelled under pressure. Expect them to earn a win victory this year, making the Chase, but not getting too far. RCR was strong at the intermediate tracks, which could fit Newman’s aggressive driving style.
-Go FAS Racing: Bobby Labonte will pilot the No. 32 Ford in each of the plate races this year. His brother, Terry Labonte, drove the car for a handful of years, but retired following the Talladega race in October. The team hasn’t announced their primary driver, yet they are expected to have multiple co-pilots once again. Travis Kvapil was the primary driver for this team last year, but it has not been announced if he will return.
-Circle Sport Racing: This team has not announced their plans, but RCR will run the No. 33 car for approximately 10 events, with Circle Sport filling out the rest of the year.
-David Ragan: Ragan is returning for another season with Front Row Motorsports in the No. 34 car. In 2014, he earned the team their first top-10 result at a non-plate track with a 10th-place result at Martinsville. The organization struggled mightily in 2014, and he seldom ran inside of the top 25. However, 2015 should see an improvement with a third team.
-Cole Whitt: Whitt moves over to FRM after working with Swan Racing/BK Racing in 2014. He wasn’t exceptional in either ride, but he was the top driver while working for both organizations. Running inside of the top 25 was considered a solid run for Whitt, and that will be the case again in 2015. Expect him to outrun his teammates, but seldom run inside of the top-20.
-David Gilliland: Earning the pole at Daytona was the highlight of Gilliland’s 2014 season. He continually spoke about the lack of an alliance with one of the larger Ford organizations. Expect him to improve in 2015, but he won’t get much better than his 28.8 average finish last year.
-Landon Cassill: Getting the most out of little equipment is what Cassill did best with in 2014. He was consistently the top underfunded team, and raced with limited sponsorship throughout the year. If he can continue to improve, Cassill will bring Hillman Racing into the top 25 on a weekly basis.
-Kurt Busch: Once the court case with Busch’s ex-girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, is completed, the No. 41 team can focus without any distractions. It appears that there is something going on with Busch almost every year, and this one is no different. However, if he can put the distractions behind him, he can be a contender for the championship. With the exception of Harvick, SHR struggled in 2014, especially at the intermediate tracks. Earning just six top fives and 11 top 10s last season, Busch should improve going into this season.
-Kyle Larson: Coming off of a stellar rookie season, Larson is now a father. He has extra motivation to do well. Not to mention, he also has more funding with Target cutting one of their IndyCar Series teams, which gives more focus on the No. 42 car. Earning eight top fives and 17 top 10s in his first full-time season, expectations are high for the Drive for Diversity graduate. In 2015, he’s going to focus on the Cup Series, but he will split the XFINITY Series season with Ganassi development driver, Dylan Kwasniewski. Expect Larson to make the Chase and pick up a victory or two at one of the intermediate tracks.
-Aric Almirola: Almirola made the Chase last season with a win at Daytona. But other than that victory, there weren’t too many bright spots for the No. 43 team. He tallied up a mere seven top-10 finishes in 2014. Although that is a career-high for the Florida-native, Almirola drove better than that. Inconsistency plagued this team severely, but they showed speed nearly every week, which is the bright side. In 2015, expect Almirola to miss the Chase. However, he will be running near the top 10 more frequently, especially with Richard Petty Motorsports getting stronger with Hornish’s arrival.
-AJ Allmendinger: He finally made it to Victory Lane in 2014. It doesn’t get better than that for a small team and a driver trying to revive a career that was extremely promising a few years ago. The team wasn’t too horrific considering they are a single-car operation. Allmendinger showcased his leadership skills by getting this team a win at Watkins Glen, but also getting them competitive enough to run inside of the top 15 when they didn’t have anything go wrong. For 2015, expect Allmendinger to miss the Chase if he doesn’t win at one of the road courses. However, he should be more consistent in his second season with JTG.
-Jimmie Johnson: Disappointment. That is the only way to describe 2014 for Johnson and the No. 48 team. Chad Knaus and he had plenty of chaos throughout the year. The speed just wasn’t there for this team, and neither was any luck. Johnson usually struggles in the summer, but 2014 was arguably the worst summer of his career. Although he won four events and led 1,310 laps, the six-time champion set career-lows in multiple categories, including average finish, laps completed, top 10s and more. In 2015, expect them to rebound tremendously. Johnson has a history of doing well following a sub-par season, and that’s what is expected of him this year.
-Justin Allgaier: Allgaier didn’t have the greatest rookie season, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. He was consistently near the top 25, which is decent for a rather new single-car team. Toward the end of the year, the No. 51 team started to finish inside of the top 20. They have potential to earn a handful of top 10s in 2015, especially with a second car, but don’t expect much more than a top-25 finish in points.
-Brian Vickers: Vickers has had a rough time as of late. His heart is steadily getting back to normal, and with the power of multiple miracles, he will be back in the No. 55 Toyota at Las Vegas for the third race of the year. In the mean time, team co-owner Michael Waltrip will drive the car at Daytona with development driver Brett Moffitt climbing aboard the car at Atlanta. 2014 was a struggle for this team. The organization lacked horsepower throughout the year, and they could never find consistency. However, expect Vickers to make the Chase in 2015 by taking more risks and having better equipment. He will likely be in contention for wins for a handful of races, but once he gets into the Chase, the second round is as far as he will go.
-Premium Motorsports, LLC: This team’s plans are unknown for 2015. They raced with Mike Wallace late last season, but didn’t perform well at all.
-Martin Truex, Jr.: 2014 was a disappointing year for this team. Besides the on-track struggles Truex had, his personal life faced too much adversity. His long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the summer, and she has been on a rough journey since. But the fighter that she is, Pollex is slowly fighting the cancer off, and she will hopefully be in remission sooner rather than later. Truex and this team are better than the 20.2 average finish they recorded last year, and 2015 will certainly be better. They have plenty of motivation, along with stronger equipment due to their growing alliance with RCR.
-JJ Yeley: Yeley will be piloting one of the BK Racing machines in 2015. Following two solid runs in a handful of races with the struggling team, they gave Yeley a full-time job for the new season. Expect him to earn a few solid finishes, and be a leader for a team that went with inexperienced drivers last year.
-Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Expectations for NASCAR’s most popular driver are high in 2015. Coming off of one of the best years in his career, Earnhardt should continue to do well this upcoming season. Earning multiple wins for the first time in a decade, the son of a NASCAR legend enters the new year with arguably his best chance at a title. In 2014, he and Steve Letarte had an average finish of 12.2 with 12 top fives. Expect Earnhardt to continue to run well with a handful of wins as Greg Ives takes over as crew chief for the No. 88 team.
-Michael McDowell: Sponsorship is finally piecing together for McDowell. He will have Thrivent Financial aboard the No. 95 car for 10 events in 2015, along with K-LOVE for a few races. McDowell will run a minimum of 20 races for Leavine Family Racing, but that will likely increase as the season rolls on. In 2014, there were signs of potential from this small team, yet that never came to fruition as they continued to have struggles. However, 2015 should be solid for them with a partnership with Team Penske expanding. Expect McDowell to race around 25th for the most part, but he should be able to earn a handful of top-20 results this year.
-Josh Wise: Wise will return to Phil Parsons Racing in 2015. They only missed one race last year, which isn’t bad for an independent team. Finishing 23rd at Bristol after holding off the leaders certainly gave them plenty of attention, and that brought on Reddit and Doge. He made it into the All-Star Race with the fan vote, and had a few solid runs on the year. For his first true full-time season (without more than two start-and-park deals), Wise ran rather well for this team. Expect them to do better for the new year with more sponsorship dollars coming through, along with better equipment.
Then, there are several drivers who are still searching to resign with their 2014 teams, or are searching for new ones:
-Ryan Truex: Truex was awful in his time with BK Racing. Most of it was due to the lack of equipment, but he also had four DNFs due to accidents. Missing the Daytona 500 wasn’t the lowest point of his season. Instead, getting the boot after Chicago was. In 23 races, the brother of Martin Truex, Jr. had just two finishes inside of the top-30. His plans are unknown for 2015, but he is still under contract for RPM as a development driver.
-David Stremme: Stremme will likely appear in some events for one of the smaller teams in 2015. He ran a few races for Circle Sport, and might return for them. If not, there are still some open seats for him with part-time teams.
-Parker Kligerman: Kligerman’s plans are unknown for the new season. He is expected to return to NASCAR competition, but is also working with NBC’s NASCAR America. Kligerman ran a handful of Sprint Cup Series races last year, but Swan Racing closed and the rest is history.
-Reed Sorenson: Sorenson had a mediocre season with TBR. It doesn’t look like he will return, but he could run part-time for the organization. Returning to full-time competition for the first time since 2009, he definitely had trouble getting readjusted to the Cup Series. Having blank quarter-panels certainly didn’t help his cause. However, he ran decent at the short tracks, and showed the possibility for improvement if they had the funding to do so.
-Travis Kvapil: Expect Kvapil to land at BK Racing in 2015. Team owner Ron Devine circled him on his list for drivers to race in 2015, and he doesn’t have a ride yet. Kvapil would be a solid co-pilot with Yeley, and they could elevate the team to the middle of the pack. He ran 21 races last year, but the highlight of his year was at Talladega, where he finished sixth for Circle Sport. If he doesn’t sign with BK Racing, expect him to run for Go FAS Racing, or Circle Sport.
-Joe Nemechek: Nemechek will likely run just a few Cup Series races this year. His focus is going to be on the Truck Series with his son, John Hunter. He partnered with Jay Robinson last season, and never finished better than 30th. If he races in the Cup Series, it will either be under the NEMCO Motorsports banner, or he will run a handful of events for a small team like RAB Racing.
You can follow me on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.
23 full-time seasons. 92 wins. 320 top fives and 454 top 10s. Sounds unreal, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.
Jeff Gordon, the face of NASCAR since winning the Coca-Cola 600, is “retiring,” but he’s just moving out of the driver’s seat. After becoming one of the best drivers in NASCAR history, Gordon, who will turn 44 in August, has announced that the 2015 season will be his final full-time year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
“This is certainly something that I've been thinking about for years,” Gordon said in a teleconference on Thursday afternoon. “Rick and I have talked about for a number of years. You're always trying to, when you get to this point in your career and you've done as much as we've done as a team, trying to figure out when that right time to step away is. I always said I wanted to step away on my own terms if possible, and I want to be competitive out there, and I hoped that I could do that all the way through my final year.”
Gordon’s numbers speak for itself. There isn’t a need to go into hefty detail about his career on the track. Driving for Hendrick Motorsports since the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, which was Richard Petty’s last event, has shown the importance of the No. 24 team. From working with Ray Evernham and Robbie Loomis, to Steve Letarte and Alan Gustafson, Gordon has found success no matter who was on the top of the pit box.
But where Gordon is different from everyone else is his philanthropy. Running the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation since 1999, he has helped raise approximately $15 million, which goes towards pediatric cancer research, the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital and plenty of other resources to help children and families.
“You've got the wins, the championships, the philanthropy, just role model and spokesman for the sport,” said team owner, Rick Hendrick. “I've always said he's got the whole package, and he will leave his mark beyond the driving years too. He's a special guy, and I think the fans are going to appreciate everything he's done on and off the track.”
The reaction around the sport to Gordon’s announcement, which surprised no one considering his ailing back issues and two children that are getting older, has been spectacular. For those who don’t know non-NASCAR fans, go up to any random person and ask to name one NASCAR driver that they know. Surprise, surprise. Chances are, the answer that you are going to get is: Jeff Gordon.
Although Gordon believes Homestead will be the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race he will ever enter, he has not ruled out running events in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series, sports cars or even off-road racing. He will still have a presence at the track in 2016, and will likely be heavily involved in the future of Hendrick Motorsports.
NASCAR without Gordon seems odd. He has helped create the multi-million dollar sponsorship industry that we see today. Until Dupont was sold, he had the longest running driver-team-sponsorship relationship since Richard Petty and STP. Without Gordon, Jimmie Johnson probably wouldn’t be at HMS, and winning six championships over the past decade.
I didn’t grow up as a fan of Gordon. Until I became a reporter, I really didn’t have respect for him. When you realize how much of an impact one person can have on a whole sport, it makes you earn understand just how important living life at its fullest can be. Just like the Hall of Famer that he is, Gordon has shown he is a first class athlete.
Arguably more important to NASCAR than Derek Jeter was and still is to the Yankees, Gordon’s legacy will never end. The face of the sport is Gordon, and it probably will be for a very long time. Continuing Petty’s legacy, Gordon now hands down the throne to the future of HMS, Chase Elliott, who is expected to take over his seat in 2016 and beyond.
Hendrick Motorsports’ season could be described in one word – disappointment. None of their four cars made the final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after entering the season with high expectations. However, in the midst of some tough luck throughout the year, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson were able to record eight wins between the two.
Earnhardt, Jr. started off 2014 with a bang – winning his second career Daytona 500. The momentum carried over throughout the first half of the year, and he was able to sweep the Pocono races. For the first time since 2004, he had a multi-win season, which was a key to the mindset of the No. 88 team.
Working with Steve Letarte for the final year, the two were deemed for success. Earning 12 top fives and 20 top 10s on the year, he was on track to contend with teammate Jeff Gordon for a championship. However, with three consecutive finishes of 20th or worse in the midst of the Chase, Earnhardt, Jr. missed the cut for the third round. Although he came back to win the next race at Martinsville, the disappointment of not finishing in the top five in points for the second straight year was immense.
The chemistry between the two finally paid off in 2014, but it wasn’t enough for them to win a championship. Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 Chevrolet led at least one lap in 17 events this year, which tallied up to a total of 383 laps led – the most for him since his first year at Hendrick. But inconsistency prior to the Chase destroyed the momentum that he had as the competition began to catch up with Hendrick’s pure speed.
As for Johnson, 2014 was one he would love to forget. Or maybe not.
Finishing a career-low 11th in points, the six-time champion had the worst year in 13 full-time seasons in NASCAR. Although he scored four wins like Earnhardt, Johnson’s luck deteriorated over the course of 2014. What seemed like his usual summer drought became more than that. Spanning Daytona in July to Watkins Glen in mid-August, he had five finishes of 14th or worse.
His luck changed just in time for the Chase, yet the speed that the No. 48 team had earlier in the season was not seen in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Besides leading 21 laps at Michigan, Johnson failed to run up front spanning Bristol until Charlotte. The stretch of races eliminated him from the Chase at the same time as the No. 88 team. Johnson scored a win in dominating fashion at Texas late in the year, which helped him become the seventh driver in the sport’s history to do so. But that was the lone bright spot of his Chase efforts.
Throughout the season, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus experienced plenty of drama. The two have worked together since 2002, and they have been able to overcome all types of adversity. However, Johnson was adamant to reporters asking about a possibility that Knaus would oversee another driver’s car in 2015. Hendrick had plenty of reasons to find a new crew chief for Johnson, but the win at Texas showed they still have what it takes to be successful given the right circumstances.
The 2015 rules package should provide Hendrick Motorsports with multiple advantages. As the largest and most successful team in the sport, they have more resources to help out with the only testing coming from the Goodyear tire tests. However, Earnhardt will have a new crew chief in Greg Ives, which could create a rough start for the No. 88 team.
With the no testing policy going into place for the new season, the duo will have limited time to gel at the intermediate tracks. However, with a similar personality to Letarte, Ives and Earnhardt should click very well. After having one of the best seasons of his career, he’s expected to run inside of the top 10 on a consistent basis; picking up from where he left off in 2014.
As for Johnson, he will be a championship contender once again. Although this past season didn’t go as planned, the No. 48 team showed they have what it takes to win. Knaus is always ahead of the competition when a new package is released, which should give them an advantage in 2015. Besides the new rule’s package, the two have a great incentive to win, and that’s to prove people wrong like they have in the past.
Johnson had career-lows in top fives and top 10s and average finish in 2014, but 2015 should see more success for the Lowe’s team. He ended the year on a high note, and Hendrick is deemed for success with their 2015 lineup.
In a wild 500-mile event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne hoisted the trophy for the first time in over a year. Holding off Matt Kenseth during a green-white-checkered restart, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet took the victory as he sliced himself between the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of the No. 20 team and Denny Hamlin.
With the victory, Kahne has locked a spot inside of the Chase for the Sprint Cup after being on the verge of earning a position in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. Now, all four Hendrick Motorsports car are locked inside of the Chase. The victory marks the 17th in his career, and his fifth triumph while racing for HMS.
“We were all over the place during the race but the guys stayed with me and worked hard,” Kahne said. “On those restarts - I didn’t know what would happen because I had great restarts all night and I struggle with restarts a lot. That’s big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at and it worked really well tonight.”
“Yeah, we are locked in and I hate it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me. Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS I have been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again, thankful for that.”
Kenseth clinched a spot in the Chase based on points with a runner-up finish. Clint Bowyer is now on the outside looking in after finishing Sunday evening’s race in the 38th position due to a broken shifter. Greg Biffle currently holds the final spot in the Chase, and it would take a victory by a win-less driver inside of the top 30 to take that away from the Roush Fenway Racing driver.
Kevin Harvick was forced into the wall in front of Joey Logano after Paul Menard spun his tires on the final restart. Menard evidently took the middle lane on the outside of Danica Patrick; shoving the No. 4 car into the wall to end his evening after leading a race-high 195 laps. Harvick was the fastest car throughout the evening as his No. 4 car pulled out in front during each restart.
After Kahne led 23 laps while holding off Harvick, the caution came out with just two laps to go. Everyone on the lead lap came onto pit road, with Kenseth and Menard taking two tires. Kahne slipped to the fifth position, but was able to work his way back up after Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch tangled with a pair of laps left in the race.
While leading early in the race, Harvick nearly hit a squirrel – as he was entering Turn 3. He radioed in on the radio to tell his crew what happened as he was in disbelief; thinking a cat ran from the fence down to the apron while Harvick’s car was approaching. Prior to the first caution, just 23 cars were on the lead lap as the No. 4 car was setting a blistering pace – over seven seconds ahead of Jeff Gordon, who was in second.
On Lap 78, while running in the runner-up position, Gordon blew a left-front tire while entering Turn 3. The No. 24 car pancaked the wall, but he was able to come back and finish 17th after being stuck two laps down and having untimely cautions – preventing him from taking the wave around until the two green-white-checkered runs.
Danica Patrick earned a career-best finish as she ended the evening in the sixth position. Patrick received two free passes on Sunday evening after getting lapped. However, she consistently worked on her No. 10 car and earned a spot inside of the top 10. Ty Dillon finished 25th at Atlanta in his Sprint Cup Series debut for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 33 Chevrolet. Although he finished three laps behind the leader, Dillon gained valuable experience and finished one position behind his brother, Austin Dillon.
In the midst of the final green-flag pit cycle, Keselowski was attempting to go around Hamlin, but he missed pit road after Cole Whitt blocked him; leading the No. 2 car to slam into the back of Josh Wise’s No. 98 car.
Tony Stewart received a warm welcome by race fans during driver introductions on Sunday evening. Stewart rapidly worked his way to the sixth position within two laps of the green flag waving after starting 12th. He ran inside of the top 10 for the majority of the race until Kyle Busch and he collided on a restart. Stewart later blew a tire – ending his night in the No. 14 car as he made a return to NASCAR competition due to missing the past three events after the tragedy that occurred on the weekend of the Watkins Glen race. After the incident, he was not available for comment, but his crew chief did.
“The car has had speed all weekend long and we qualified well,” Chad Johnston said. “I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win but it just didn’t work out in our favor. We got into a little trouble with the 18 and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage. We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out.”